As previously reported on Scope, unreliable power grids and a lack of refrigeration services in developing nations poses a significant challenge in distributing vaccines to remote areas. To overcome this hurdle, researchers are working South African telecommunications provider Econet Wireless and 10 church-run hospitals in Zimbabwe to test the potential of using surplus energy from off-grid cell towers to keep vaccines cool and maintain the "cold chain".
A story published today in New Scientist describes the pilot project:
Cellphones have overtaken landlines in developing countries. To keep their towers working reliably in areas where the power often fails, or the masts are off the grid, cellphone firms have installed generators, and sometimes solar panels. Surplus power can then be used to chill vaccines, maintaining the cold chain, the weakest link in efforts to immunise children against diseases like polio, measles and diphtheria.
To be sure that power glitches wouldn't cause problems, [organizers] chose fridges by True Energy of Tywyn, UK, that can keep cool for 10 days without power, even in temperatures above 40 *C. The fridges have sensors to monitor temperature both inside and out, and to detect when the door is opened. This data is relayed back via the cellphone network, allowing Econet and its partners to know immediately if anything goes wrong. The fridges are either housed in a shelter beneath the cellphone tower, or in the hospital if it is nearby.
Previously: Using off-grid cell towers to maintain vaccine "cold chain"
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